Cleared hill land approved by Penang government, says council

What is left of a part of Mt Erskine, following earthworks in this photograph taken from the Mont Residence Condominium in Tanjug Tokong. (SAM pic)

GEORGE TOWN: Cleared hill land near Mount Erskine here, which drew the concern of an environmental group, has turned out to be a road construction project sanctioned by the local council.

The Penang Island City Council (MBPP) said the road was being constructed by a developer to allow cars to cross over to Mount Erskine Road via Persiaran Halia 3.

“This was part of a condition imposed by the Penang government on the developer to mitigate traffic impact from the new developments in the area and improve flow in the Persiaran Halia area.

“The road is over the hill contours of 250ft and over a 25-degree slope. The Penang Structure Plan (PSP) 2020 classifies this project as a ‘special project’ as it was the government’s infrastructure project for public use,” MBPP said in a statement.

The PSP town planning document dictates what can and cannot be built in an area. It currently forbids development on sensitive hill areas above 250ft and above 25-degree slopes unless it is classified as a “special project” by the state planning committee.

The council also said a geotechnical expert team was on constant watch while soil nailing and guniting works were being carried out.

Yesterday, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) warned that extensive hill-clearing activities on the site would pose a danger to a condominium tower in the area, and could see a repeat of fatal landslides in the state in the last two years.

“We are very concerned that with many parts of the slopes being bare, with this rainy season, serious soil erosion will result, contributing to landslides and flash floods in the area,” SAM president Meenakshi Raman had said.

In response to MBPP’s statement, NGO Penang Hills Watch (PHW) today asked why no signs had been erected on the site to inform that a new road was being built on the gazetted hill land.

It also asked why the road project was taking so long, with images from Google Earth showing the hill cutting works could have begun as early as Nov 2017.

“It is only from the MBPP’s recent announcement that it was made clear that the earthworks are associated with the construction of a road on hilly land to ease traffic congestion due to new high-rise residential development in the vicinity of Persiaran Halia 3.

“We are therefore puzzled why the road construction project has protracted without signs of progress while the slopes have been exposed to the elements for almost two years.

“As this road is being built on government land, shouldn’t the Penang government set a good example by minimising the environmental impact of the construction by ensuring the least damage is done within the shortest exposure time (of cut hill land)?

PHW said it had alerted the state government in Dec 2018 on the hill clearing, and had received a reply that “mitigation works” were being carried out on the site.

It said while it was a “special project” of public interest, the road was built on a hilly area, which posed a risk of soil erosion, mud floods and landslides, which should have been avoided.

“This stretch of road on hilly area is meant for localised traffic dispersal to avert the congestion that has built up along the Lebuhraya Halia.

“[…]As more high-density development projects creep up slopes, the solution to mitigate the resulting traffic congestion seems to be building ‘backdoor’ by-pass roads through gazetted hill land.

“The Penang government must consider better land use and transportation planning strategies rather than resorting to ad-hoc solutions such as this.”

The PHW is an independent monitoring team that looks out for erosion and illegal land clearing on hills in Penang and reports them to the Penang government and local authorities.